You might remember that Saliyapa (our housekeeper) had her traditional wedding back in June. Since then we have been gearing up for her church wedding. In some ways the traditional wedding could be compared to an engagement party in the States. While after that wedding she was considered married in the eyes of many, she and her husband did not move in together until after the church wedding which was last Saturday. I had offered to make the wedding cake for Sali’s reception and she asked me to be a part of her wedding party as the “cake cutter.” I was honored to be asked but not sure exactly what would be involved and with my family being the only muzungus (white people) at the wedding I was a little bit worried about making a fool out of myself. This concern was amplified by the fact that the culture here is much less direct than American culture so when I asked questions about what was expected of me I knew I was never really getting the complete story.
Overtime I gathered that I was responsible for the cake. Not just baking it and decorating it but also divvying it up for a number of purposes. I had baked six layers to make a three tiered wedding cake but was then told (a little too late) that the bride’s parents and the groom’s parents each needed their own personal cake and that I needed to individually wrap 100 bite size pieces of cake to sell to the guests. After consulting with Sali we decided that I would take one layer from the bottom tier to cut into bite size pieces for sale and I would cut one layer of the middle tier in half and decorate that separately for each set of parents. Since this information came to me so late in the game and since what had been originally asked of me kept changing, I started to worry about my ability to deliver what was required and then questioned my decision to ever get involved in the first place!
First the cake was going to be quite small (about the size of my daughter’s birthday castle cake), then it had to be a full blown wedding cake. I was originally told the cake was supposed to be a white cake, then a white and chocolate marbled cake and then after I had baked all the tiers and had them in the deep freeze I was told that it had to be a fruit cake and was brought a hand written recipe that included brandy (Saliyapa and her family do not touch alcohol) and dried cherries (which I have never seen for sale in Malawi). All of these changes were sent to me from the wedding committee through Sali and at that point I had a pretty good suspicion that someone on the committtee was just trying to see how much they could get out of the cake cutter. I refused to make the fruit cake because my baking is unpredictable at the best of times. Sali said she was fine with that, after all she had helped me bake the cakes we had in the deep freeze so that she could learn the process as she hopes to start selling her own wedding cakes in the future. She seemed happy to use what we had already made but still I worried that I was going to disappoint the wedding committee and I got more and more stressed about it as the day approached.
I was especially worried about the icing, would it melt on the day and would it survive the bumpy half hour drive to the wedding venue in the hundred degree heat? Luckily my husband had the brilliant idea to employ a chef from the tourism camp to help me ice the cake the day before the wedding. Isaac was incredible. When I showed him the icing recipe that I was planning to use he said, “It will melt, why don’t you let me make royal icing?” He then proceeded to make a beautiful white icing that he guaranteed melt proof with icing sugar, egg whites, and a little bit of lemon juice. He iced the cakes, I stacked and staked them, and we added some lovely gold icing roses that I had found in town (Sali’s colors were gold and apple green). In addition to taking care of the icing Isaac allayed my fears about the cake meeting approval. He is Malawian and told me that he had never seen a tiered cake at any wedding he had ever been to and that this cake was going to make the day even more special for Sali. He also tasted the cake and told me people were going to love it. He was right. This is Isaac with the finished cake, and a few of the 86 bite size pieces we had wrapped (we didn’t quite make 100 but it ended up being enough). He was true to his word. The icing set hard, almost like a meringue, and survived both the trip and the heat under the hot tin roof of the wedding venue.
The smaller cakes for the bride and groom’s parents were displayed in these baskets and then presented to them by the bride and groom during the reception.
I had been told that I needed to have a gold or an apple green dress made to show that I was a part of the wedding party. I wasn’t sure how I would know what fabric to choose but I went to the main fabric shop in town and told them I was in a wedding and needed a gold dress (I thought I had a better chance of getting it right with gold than with apple green which seemed a bit more ambiguous to me). First the shopkeeper showed me a ivory/gold satin but when I mentioned that it was for a local wedding he whisked that away and came back with a fabric that had a much stronger color and told me he was confident that it was exactly what the bride had in mind. He helped me decide on the amount of fabric and the accessories I needed and then I asked if he could recommend a tailor. He sent me down the street with one of his employees to an older man with a lovely smile sitting behind his pedal powered sewing machine which was set up on the sidewalk. I was introduced to Ishmael and he said he would make my dress. I had brought a sample top for him to copy and told him that I’d like a long skirt to go with it. He took my measurements and said it would be ready on Friday, it was already lunchtime on Wednesday and I have to admit that I was a little surprised at how well it fit and that he was able to make it in such a short time. Not exactly what I would have chosen for myself but I got plenty of compliments at the wedding.
I will write about the actual day soon but wanted to share these preparations that have needlessly caused me a lot of stress in the last few weeks. My husband kept telling me that it would all fall into place and he was right. Everything worked out beautifully, Sali had a perfect day, and we had a wonderful time at the wedding.
We are off to Lake Malawi tomorrow for a much needed vacation. The girls and I have not spent a night out of the reserve since April and we have a huge case of cabin fever. Wishing you a wonderful week!
Have you ever had to prepare for an event when you didn’t fully understand what was expected of you? How did you cope?